Campaign India caught up with Glenn Osaki, president, MSLGroup Asia, when he was in India recently. He spoke about the differences of operating in Asia, shift of spends from ad/media into PR, and changing client demands. Edited excerpts:
For MSLGroup, how do operations differ across regions? How is Asia different?
We do follow a consistent process in the way that we work with clients globally, how we drive new business growth, how we train our talent, how we create thought leadership across verticals. Our practice verticals are globally aligned. We operate differently in Asia, in terms of how aggressive we are.
The success for MSLGroup in Asia is very much because of the expertise that we have from market to market and also because we have a very cohesive team. In Asia, we work a lot closer together. In Asia, we bring our practice leaders together on a much more consistent basis. We have a very strong culture in the Asian market because we are relatively new. In the US or Europe, we’ve been long established for many years. But it’s really been only the last four to five years that our Asia presence has become one of scale. This was because we’ve had a very aggressive organic growth and a number of acquisitions - about eight.
Because of the acquisitions, we’ve really strived to create a culture of a bottom-up approach. We highlight this and celebrate the expertise of those local offices as opposed to a top-down approach. The bottom-up approach has permeated our practice areas as well as our geographies.
One of the greatest benefits you could have (as part of a network) is that you could give the local team members the chance to work with a colleague who sits in another market. They can learn from that. I think it makes us much more cohesive. About a 100 people in Asia have spent time in our other offices in the last two years.
We try to spread the culture from the grassroots into the region and ultimately globally. So it’s a big difference in the way we approach our business. There is a people-focused approach that we’ve had because we’ve had to grow so quickly in Asia.
Your India PR report mentions a rise in PR spend, drop in ad spend. Where is this growth going into?
Any person you speak to in the advertising industry will agree that the media spend has decreased. Brands are using more of their money for social media, mobile, digital and earned media.
We’ve made eight acquisitions recently (by our holding company Publicis Groupe). They may choose to invest in creative advertising or digital or media companies or public relations. A lot of the money is coming into PR because it is growing. It does demonstrate that there is a shift of focus and we are actually hiring a lot of people from advertising who want to move into PR.
You have mentioned Content Marketing and Digital as focus areas. What has been the offtake?
We find that increasingly companies are looking at integrating their marketing process, strategy, and tactics so each channel (paid, earned, owned) leverages each other. It’s important that we stay ahead of the curve in terms of our specialised offerings and help in moving the needle in clients’ businesses.
One of the reasons for our success in India is how we have integrated. We’ve had a strong creative hub which does design and video etc. that we have integrated with SocialHive, which is our social group, which builds everything from platforms and apps to social media engagement. We’ve also incorporated our content capabilities, which could be long-form or short-form content. So by bringing all of these units closer together, we are able to assess where the marketplace is going. It is that level of integration which makes us stand apart in India.
Across Asia, how are integrated solutions growing? (Digital, paid, owned, earned media)
In all parts of Asia, we see that paid, owned and earned media are critical. There is an overlap and ‘complimentarity’ to them all. Though a PR agency like ours typically works in the earned space, many of our clients are asking us to manage their media channels, websites, Facebook pages, their publications. Even on the paid side of things, there is some work that we are doing as we can use some of the paid media to reinforce and strengthen the work being done on owned and earned media. There is a synergy across all of those which is observed across Asia.
The integration level is far greater today than it was a year ago. In China, we probably have a higher percentage of integration as the media there is often State-owned and we don’t have the same freedom there as we do here in India. The editorial and advertising departments are separate but they don’t work as separately as they do in India. The percentage of overlap is lower in India as compared to China. But the use of paid, owned, earned by an agency like ours is increasing.
How big is social listening? Is it a practice area for MSLGroup?
At MSLGroup, we have a very strong digital communications practice. Social listening is an integral part of this practice. You need to have data and analytics as you cannot only rely on intuition and instincts. We must understand that consumers these days are very savvy and sophisticated. We need to ensure that our clients are providing the most focused, well thought out, interesting, shareable content whether online or offline, traditional media or social media or trade shows. The experience across these touch points has to be customised based on research. So our job is to make sure we’re able to bring all of these concepts together.
Consumers have more power now than they ever did before. There was a time when the message was dictated by the clients or brands, which were then furthered by us in the communications industry. But now because of the ability of the social networks, mobile and instant messaging services, there is so much more influence that the consumer has. Our job as marketers is to engage those consumers. A company might own their brand but how the consumer reacts to it, uses it, talks about it to its friends and family is up to that individual. It’s much more of an interactive dialogue. Five years ago we used to think that we’re in an interactive dialogue. It is so much more than that now. You have to let go of your brand and recognise that your ability to engage with the consumer is absolutely essential. It’s a shared responsibility between consumers and marketers.
How evolved are we in measuring ROI on social (beyond of 'likes' and 'followers')?
Some of our colleagues in Delhi are doing very well in creating different crowd-sourced platforms that we can use to get better insights about interactions. And, yes, it isn’t about the number of ‘likes’ or ‘followers’, it is much more about the impact. This aspect of measurement is critically important. In any campaign, there are always a smaller group of people that have a bigger impact. It could be bloggers, thought leaders, celebrities etc. So we try to attract those influencers and know the impact that they are making on a consumer, brand choice, sales figures and the like.
Your India PR report mentioned that clients are demanding more services for the same budget. Does this differ from other Asian markets? What has been the most significant shift in client's demands from a PR agency in India?
This is the evolution that we are seeing in this industry. If a client has started working with us in a traditional public relations capacity then we’d do publicity, press conferences, events etc. Now, when the client is expanding, they ask for more digital, social, internal communications support, issues management and content creation from us. Clients, like anybody else, want more services for their money, which is why it is incumbent upon us as an agency to be able to demonstrate the greater value that this provides. If we are smart enough in expanding their scope into key audiences, then naturally they should be paying additional fees.
What clients are looking for specifically in the digital space is reputation management. Clients want to use digital to better their reputation online because that is the medium through which people are looking at them and finding out more about them. The consumer is not just going to a company’s website alone. They go look at third parties that are involved, the chatter about the brand in various online spaces, on bulletin boards, Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else. So, reputation is what clients are trying to manage when we talk about objectives going beyond sales.
What would be the investment in technology for MSLGroup in Asia?
We’re looking at quite a bit of investment support to both B2B and technology practices in Asia. Here in India, we have a couple of different brands. One of our colleagues, Amrit Ahuja, is the regional leader for B2B and technology. They are probably the premier B2B and technology providers in the communication space in India today.
We know that this is an area we excel in and many of the digital and social media application services we provide are increasingly important even in the B2B space. It’s not just the consumer brands that feel a need to be on social media. So yes, investment in these practices is very high on our list.